Pertussis or “whooping cough” has reemerged in our community. There are three confirmed cases in elementary school children in Whitefish Bay–one of whom is my son. For the record, Jake was fully vaccinated against pertussis; however, the vaccine is only 85 percent effective. Vaccinations are not 100 percent effective, and efficacy is different for each individual vaccine.
Part of why vaccines work so well is something called “herd immunity,” which means if enough people are vaccinated, they prevent the disease from reoccurring even if the vaccine itself is not completely effective. Due to the concerns with vaccine safety, fewer people are vaccinating. This allows diseases that were nearly erradicated to remerge and infect patients like Jake who were vaccinated. Jake’s symptoms began with a cough that was similiar to his asthma cough, and we treated him as such.
However, after about a week it soon became apparent this was a different cough. He had coughing jags every 5-10 minutes where he would turn red in the face, gasp for air, then often vomit. After about two weeks of the illness, he developed the classic “whoop” with coughing. He has missed nearly one month of school, and is unable to do any kind of active play without triggering more spasms. One of the hardest things to watch as a parent is your child suffering and being unable to help him–being a physician and knowing I could not help him made it that much worse.
There is no “cure” for pertussis, antibiotics just prevent the transmission to other people. Jake is going to cough for the next few months, and I will not be able to fix him. I am fortunate that he is older. If an infant under one year contracts pertussis they can die. Please speak with us if you have concerns about vaccines–we do not want these diseases to come back and have more children suffer. I would also recommend that all parents booster themselves with their next tetanus shot.